Samsung mounts mobile health challenge

Handset giant announces mHealth Simband watch and SAMI cloud platform

By Rethink Wireless

Samsung is taking on the connected health (mHealth) market with an open modular reference design called Simband. The hardware is a wristband that resembles a watch, which measures the biometrics of the wearer, before connecting that data to a cloud platform backend called SAMI (Samsung Architecture Multimedia Interactions).

Most interestingly, this looks like a platform that is completely independent of Samsung's handsets - a strong indicator that this is a serious healthcare endeavor and not a value-add product for existing Samsung phone owners. There has so far been no mention of pairing the Simband, or of the underwhelming and unenthusiastically adopted S Health app that Samsung launched as a selling point of the Galaxy S3 phone in 2012. This is the first major announcement to come out of Samsung's Strategy and Innovation Center; a separate division of the business independent of mobile devices.

It should be noted that this announcement comes in the week before Apple's WWDC event, where it is expected that it will reveal iOS 8 with home control and health functionality. However, there is also no indication whether this will be a consumer-facing product or something sold directly to the healthcare industry - something that might help move Simband out of direct competition with Apple in the retail market. The fact that Samsung is stressing the modular potential of the platform is a strong indicator that this will be geared towards healthcare businesses not consumers.

The metrics that Samsung says it can measure include blood flow, estimated blood pressure, galvanic skin response, heart rate, hydration, respiration, blood glucose concentration, and even surrounding air quality. A Samsung video showed how the ECG of a user could be measured by touching a finger to the watch strap. Samsung also identified other devices and hardware that could be added to the ecosystem to expand its capability, including glasses and sensors for legs, chest, ear and upper arms.

Samsung was keen to stress that it would not be selling the data collected by SAMI. Consumers would hopefully be comfortable with that level of privacy over their health data, but if this is a system to be adopted by healthcare companies, they would need access to the information of all their patients through the cloud APIs, suggesting such a mechanism will be in place. There has so far been no clarification of whether a private user who was to buy a Simband would have to upload their data to SAMI or if the system could be used without the cloud functionality.

The Simband itself will include Bluetooth and WiFi connectivity, as well as a wireless charging mechanism that can be used while sleeping, ensuring that the band does not have to be removed to be charged - a criticism levelled at Samsung's Gear and Gear Fit smart watches that were mHealth focused. The charging mechanism suggested by Samsung is a magnetic unit, presumably plugged in during the day and attached to the Simband at night.

Other options could include batteries that harvest energy from movement, light and heat, which would alleviate charging requirements. The Simband currently uses a chipset around half the size of an SD card, which includes an ARM A7 CPU cast in 28nm.

Samsung has partnered with Belgium-based Imec ("a nanoelectronics research center") and the University of California to work on the Simband platform. Beta versions of the hardware, SDK, APIs and cloud infrastructure should be available by the end of the year, according to Samsung chief strategy officer Young Sohn.

Samsung has also established a $50 million fund for its new Digital Health Challenge, available to developers looking to work in mHealth capacities in both hardware and tracking sensors as well as the software side of things and the mathematics required to process the data collected.

Back to blog